What's unexpectedly downplayed in these salads is lettuce, and the trend is catching on in St. Louis. At The Crossing, in Clayton, the signature dish is a salad of organic beets and Montrachet goat cheese, stacked in alternating tiers like a napoleon. A handful of greens is scattered atop the layers. "It's a concept dish from top to bottom," says co-chef/co-owner Jim Fiala. "It's sweet and earthy. The goat cheese has that tang to balance the sweetness of the beets, which we flavor with sherry vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, shallots and parsley."
Adding a protein to the plate -- anything from pan-fried oysters to grilled rabbit to roast suckling pig -- turns a lithe salad into what Grenache's executive chef Steve Scherrer calls "a first-course-and-a-half." David Slay, executive chef at Zu Zu's Petals, cautions that composed salads should not mimic the entrées. "I don't like to be repetitive," he explains. "If I do a warm scallop salad, I won't have scallops anywhere else on the menu." Scherrer recently served a brawny salad of braised beef tongue with Parmesan crisps, shaved pears and a toasted-mustard-seed emulsion. "It tastes just like beef," he says. "Customers really liked it once they got past the idea that they were eating tongue."